Lou Doillon

by Emily Wells

We speak to the French model, singer, actress after she kicks off her US tour
Lou Doillon is asking us, her audience at the Roxy Theater, to sing along with her. In a sober state of mind, I’m not one to sing along with anything, but Lou’s earnest voice, soothing in its soft wispiness, makes a convincing case. “I also love to see the audience dance,” she tells us, which she acknowledges is a bit challenging in that her music—heartfelt songs of love, longing, and relationships gone awry, “is not particularly dance-able. If you can’t dance, but you’re here with someone you love, perhaps you can snog. I love to see snogging while I play.”

Doillon’s latest album, Lay Low, for which she is currently on a worldwide tour, is a strong one, perhaps even more stunningly intimate than her 2012 debut, Places. Lou is an easy musician to root for, too: the daughter of Jane Birkin and French director Jacques Doillon, she grew up in the public eye, branded with the insufferable title of “it girl” from her teen years on. It’s thrilling to see her shake this off and find her own creative footing. The show’s audience—singing, dancing, and snogging along—seems to agree.

I chatted with Lou on the phone the week after her show at the Roxy.

What are the differences playing somewhere like France, where everyone knows of you and your records, and somewhere like L.A., where things are picking up but you can still slide under the radar a bit?

When you’re performing in clubs what’s great is that you have to adapt to where you are. The Roxy is a really amazing space, because maybe one third of it is the stage… you see the whole room everywhere. It’s very smart the way it’s set up; you feel very close to the audience… I love L.A. It was always my dream to perform there. It was a thrill. What’s beautiful about this process of touring is that it’s the best way to discover countries, to discover people. You realize music is extremely pagan, having a communion around vibrations, feeding off each other’s vibrations, so to discover L.A. through the music teaches me much more than just walking down the streets.

Your albums really have a way of telling stories from beginning to end. Was the songwriting for Lay Low chronological, or do you jump around in time?

What’s lovely is that any creative process is much more about the unconscious than the conscious, in a way. You do things, and then when the album is finished you suddenly, slowly actually, realize what you’ve done, and it’s as if things were meant to be. Somehow when the order of the songs was made, it all suddenly made sense.

My favorite comment when the album came out in France was when a woman told me she put the album on, she had put her kids in the bath and her husband was taking care of them, and she put the music on and said suddenly for the first time in the day, she sat down, and she listened to herself, through me. I thought, that’s exactly what I want… Maybe because of drawing I like the idea of working with silence more than working with sound, working with the space that you leave. If there’s enough space, people settle down and find themselves. You’re suddenly much more with yourself than you are with me.

Your albums also have a way of speaking to people on the fringes—the heartbroken and vulnerable, especially. Do you think about these people when you’re writing?

I find the more I am precise and the more I am true to an intimate feeling, the closer I get to humanity in a way. We’re very common in a beautiful way–especially our downsides, what we hide. The heroic side of us is maybe what separates us the most. Those basic feelings—fear, desire, longing to be loved, longing to be accepted as we are, that’s lovely because when I write it, I write is because I have to write it… when I pick what songs will go on an album, I try to pick what will resonate. I don’t like music to be a diary just for me—that would be slightly rude!

I love your Instagram because of all your photos of what you’re reading and drawing. Do these other mediums affect your music?

For sure, especially literature. That’s a revelation I had as a woman: that whole process of talking about your insecurities making you stronger. That first one I read who kept insisting she was a victim—but by writing it was clear that she wasn’t was Dorothy Parker. She’s one of my favorite poets, because it’s so wonderful to be so conscious of your unconscious… She captures herself being this kind of hysterical crazy girl who is always in love with the wrong guy, but who actually is always in love, and you realize the more it goes that the guy has very little importance. It’s just important for her to do the act of writing about them.

Is that true for you too—that the men seem so important, and then you realize they’re just incidental?

(Laughs). I guess so! They’re important because, well technically, we only write about love, and war, I guess… I think that humanity will always be writing and painting love and loss. We’re creatures of longing.